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Reducing Your Risk of Gynecologic Cancer


Aine Clements, MD, a gynecologic oncologist with OhioHealth, is advocating for proactive measures, early detection and open conversations in gynecologic health.

“The most common cancer that I take care of is uterine cancer, and that is on the rise,” Dr. Clements shared with reporter Zach Tuggle of the Mansfield News Journal. In practice, she encounters various other types of cancers related to the female reproductive system, including ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, vulvar cancer, vaginal cancer, and some rare cases involving the placenta.­

"A new mutation can start in a family through an individual, or environmental risk factors from being exposed to something,” Dr. Clements said. "There's so much we don't understand about why cancers form — just because there's no family history doesn't mean that you can't develop a gynecologic cancer.”

Everyone, regardless of their family history, should take steps to reduce their risk.

“Early detection helps doctors find mutations before they become cancer,” she said, referring to the identification of “precancer.” Screenings such as colonoscopies, pap tests, and mammograms can catch conditions in this early stage, allowing for less invasive treatments and better overall outcomes.

"If you catch it as a precancer, you remove it and then you can watch carefully after that," Dr. Clements said. "Once you've had one, you're at risk to develop other ones."

Cancers or precancers can develop on the skin anywhere on the body, including the vulvar region. New growths and skin marks can wait up to two weeks, but after that, doctors say it’s time to act.

Another key preventative measure is receiving the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine approved for patients aged 9 to 45 with multiple doses depending on age. This vaccine can play a role in preventing cervical, vaginal, and a large majority of vulvar cancers.

“The younger you get it, the better,” Dr. Clements said about the vaccine and recommended discussing it with a healthcare provider.

Timely consultations about abnormal functions or discomfort, particularly related to the reproductive system, can lead to early intervention as well.

Dr. Clements frequently sees patients who are experiencing excessively heavy menstrual cycles with intense pain, even causing them to miss work. While these symptoms are not necessarily signs of cancer, they may warrant a discussion with a doctor.

"A lot of people just aren't comfortable talking about that area, so they try to downplay their symptoms," Dr. Clements said. "They might feel embarrassed to mention it."

But she urged patients not to shy away from these conversations with their healthcare provider. They’re there to help.

“That's what we do: we take care of people who have problems in that area. We're comfortable talking about it, so it's OK to bring up those conversations.”

To learn more about OhioHealth’s gynecologic cancer care, click here

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